The MLB season is right around the corner as fans have finally started dusting off their favorite jerseys, t-shirts and caps to get ready for some baseball. But before fans are able to dive into the regular season of America’s pastime, the teams themselves have to shake off the offseason rust for the age-old tradition known as spring training.
Spring training is the MLB’s version of preseason play. From mid February right up until the regular season starts in the beginning of April, teams are able to compete in games that will not count toward regular season standings.
“Spring training splits the MLB in half, they send the west coast teams to Arizona to play each other and the east coast teams to Florida for their own games,” five-year spring training attendee Austin Brown said.
Although teams go through spring training hoping to compete and win games against other organizations, the goal of this preseason period is more focused on individual players rather than team records.
“It’s definitely not as competitive as the regular season, but it’s definitely something teams need,” said Gabe Gunter, junior outfielder for the Kingsmen baseball team. “With a sport like baseball you can’t just go into the season cold. Spring training helps get players ready to play again and also helps build chemistry between players.”
Not only is spring training a time for MLB veterans to prepare for the season, but it is also a time for lesser known players to get themselves noticed.
“Spring training is awesome because it gives fans an opportunity to go check out the younger talent and see who may have a chance to make it big some day,” said seasoned spring training attendee Robert Howe.
MLB teams enter spring training with a 40-man roster and as the preseason progresses they cut players that they do not feel are ready for the major leagues quite yet, until they reach the required 25-man roster that will enter the regular season.
“The first thing [teams] look at is the health and conditioning of their athletes that show up and once they establish that they try to evaluate where they are at developmental wise,” Howe said. “Basically they are rating everybody to see what level they will be at when they start the season.”
This preseason period also gives everyone a better idea as to what competition lies ahead in the upcoming year. People are finally able to get a glimpse at whether different offseason transactions or up and coming prospects will prove to be fruitful.
“A team that’s looking good, the Cubs are loaded for the next few years with young players. One guy you have to watch this year is catcher Kyle Schwarber,” Howe said. “He is only 22 and he has the potential to hit 40 homeruns.”
Schwarber showed promise in his rookie season hitting 16 homeruns with 43 RBIs in only 232 at bats.
“The Cubs could win it all, they have a number of great young players returning from last year that helped them to make a deep postseason run, as well as making a few great offseason pick-ups like all-star outfielder Jason Heyward,” Gunter said.
The Cubs are not the only team turning heads this year, as many other organizations have also stockpiled young talent to accompany numerous offseason transactions. The National League West, one of MLB’s toughest divisions, was also one of the busiest divisions in baseball this offseason.
“The NL West is arguably the most stacked division in baseball this year,” Brown said. “The Arizona Diamondbacks are in contention for the division this year with the Dodgers who have a few young guys like Corey Seager and obviously the Giants leading the way with three World Series rings in the last five years and who also acquired pitcher Johnny Cueto. [The Diamondbacks] offseason acquisitions of Shelby Miller and Cy Young runner-up Zack Greinke make them a dark horse to possibly win it all.”
Attendees can only hope that they will get to see all of their favorite players full speed this preseason, but really it’s about baseball.
“If you’re going to spring training to watch your favorite players play and watch games that are exciting, you’re not going to find a lot of that because that’s not what it’s all about,” Brown said. “[Spring training] is meant to just go have some fun and watch some baseball.”
Published March 16th, 2016